Couroupita guianensis

Couroupita guianensis: Exploring the Enchanting Cannonball Tree

Couroupita guianensis, commonly known as the Cannonball Tree, is a tropical deciduous tree that originates from Central and South America. This magnificent tree showcases not only beautiful and fragrant flowers but also intriguing fruit in the form of large brownish balls hanging from its branches. Belonging to the Lecythidaceae family of plants, Couroupita guianensis has captivated the attention of travelers and botanists alike, leaving a lasting impression with its unique features.

During a recent trip to Koh Samui, (เกาะสมุย, Samui Island), a picturesque island on the east coast of Thailand, I encountered the fascinating Couroupita guianensis. While waiting at the airport, I noticed this exceptional tree and was instantly intrigued. Capturing its image in a photograph, I later delved into research to unveil its mysteries and rich cultural significance.

Botanical Features:

Couroupita guianensis can reach impressive heights of up to 35 meters or 115 feet. Its foliage appears in clusters at the end of the branches, and unlike many trees, it sheds its leaves twice a year. The flowers of Couroupita guianensis grow on racemes and exhibit a remarkable characteristic—they bloom for just a single day. However, during this brief period, a mature tree can produce an astonishing number of flowers, sometimes exceeding 1,000 in a day.

These fragrant blossoms showcase a vibrant range of colors, including shades of pink, yellow, and red. Each flower possesses six petals and two stamens, attracting various pollinators such as bees, wasps, flower flies, and bumblebees, which aid in the process of pollination. Notably, Couroupita guianensis produces two types of pollen: fertile pollen in the ring stamens and sterile pollen in the hood.

Couroupita guianensis
Cannonball Tree or Couroupita guianensis at the Koh Sumai Airport

How to grow Couroupita guianensis:

Couroupita guianensis is generally disease-free and pest-resistant, making it an ideal choice for cultivation. However, precautions should be taken when selecting its planting location, as the tree’s large fruits can be hazardous if they fall on pedestrians below. It thrives in sunny locations with average water and moist soil, but excessive watering should be avoided to prevent waterlogging.

Remarkable Fruit:

One of the most intriguing aspects of Couroupita guianensis is its fruit. Encased in a woody shell, the fruit can grow up to 10 inches or 25 centimeters in diameter. It takes an impressive 12 to 18 months to mature fully. The flesh of the fruit starts off white but undergoes a color change to blue through oxidation when exposed to the air. While the fruits are edible, they are rarely consumed by humans due to their unpleasant aroma. However, they serve as a source of nutrition for livestock, particularly pigs. Interestingly, in traditional medicine, the fruit is utilized by native Amazonians to treat various ailments, including hypertension, tumors, inflammation, colds, malaria, and even toothaches.

Cultural Significance:

Couroupita guianensis holds cultural and religious significance in various regions. It was named by Jean Baptiste Christophore Fusée Aublet, a renowned French botanist and pharmacist known for his exploration of Neotropic plants and their practical uses, particularly through ethnobotanical studies. In India, the tree is considered sacred and holds religious importance. Its flower is believed to resemble Nāga, semi-divine deities that embody both human and serpent characteristics. As a result, Hindus often plant Couroupita guianensis near Shiva temples, further enhancing its spiritual significance.

Couroupita guianensis, or the Cannonball Tree, mesmerizes with its captivating presence and unique botanical features. From its clusters of fragrant, colorful flowers that bloom for a single day to the intriguing fruit that hangs from its branches, this tropical tree offers a truly enchanting sight. Its cultivation is not only a horticultural endeavor but also a testament to its cultural significance, being revered and planted near sacred temples in India. Whether admired for its beauty, used in traditional medicine, or embraced for its ecological role in pollinator attraction, Couroupita guianensis stands as a remarkable species that continues to awe and inspire those who encounter it in Central and South America and beyond.

Couroupita guianensis
Flowers and fruit of Couroupita guianensis

List of the names by country:

Bangladesh: Nagalinga Ful or Nagalingam
Colombia: Coco sachapura
Costa Rica: Bala de cañón
Netherlands: Kanonskogelboom 
France: Arbre à boulet de canon
French Guiana: Kouroupitoumou
Karnataka, India: Nagalinga Pushpa
Kerala, India: Naaga danthee 
Odisha, India: Nagakeshara ନାଗକେଶର
Tamil, India: NagalingamorLingam
Telangana, India: Nagamalli
Indonesia: Sala
Panama: Coco sachapura, or Granadillo de las huacas, or Bala de canon
Peru: Ayahuma
Portugal: Abricó-de-macaco
Suriname: Boskalebas

Couroupita guianensis
Fruits hanging from Couroupita guianensis

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